FSU to improve retention strategies

FSU aims to improve its retention rate by strengthening existing outreach initiatives, implementing the Reimagining First Year (RFY) project and targeted recruiting of prospective students.    

According to U.S. News and World Report, FSU’s retention rate is at 75 percent, which is just above the national average of 71 percent.

Two of FSU’s sister universities, Bridgewater and Fitchburg state universities, boast a retention rate of 81 and 77 percent respectively.

Students are only counted toward the retention rate if they return to the same institution for their sophomore year.

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development emphasized the importance of faculty and staff involvement in students lives to improve the retention rate.

She said, “We as an institution need to and can do a better job selling ourselves. This means reaching out to prospective students through a process of targeted recruiting.”

Holloway believes it is crucial that the University highlights its strong areas to give students a better idea of what it offers and stands for. “As long as you put in the time and hard work, you can get a good education no matter where you go. However, it is important to pick a college that best fits your personality.

“Don’t pick a school because your grandmother went there, or because the welcome center staff was friendly. Of course they will be friendly – it’s a welcome center. Instead, take time to look into potential schools and the unique benefits they may offer,” she said.    

Holloway noted, “Schools with high retention rates understand who they are, and they market that to prospective students, so when those students come in, they already feel like they belong.”

Sean Huddleston, chief  officer of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, said, “We are currently in a strategic planning process. We as an institution are looking into how we can better differentiate ourselves from other institutions.”

“I think we really need to push our student/faculty interaction especially to incoming students,” he added.

Huddleston said, “I don’t think you can put enough value on reaching out to students in their first year. I think the earlier we reach out to students, the faster we can help instill a sense of belonging in them.”

Holloway said for many, the battle starts long before students enter the classroom. “Some students have never shared a room. Others have never lived away from home, and some don’t know they even have access to financial aid. All of these factors can turn into issues before the students even account for class work.”   

Glenn Cochran, associate dean of students and director of residence life said he aims to help incoming students with the anxieties associated with arriving on a new campus.

“Move-in day can be stressful. It’s stressful on parents as well as new students. You’re in a completely new area and it can often feel intimidating when you first arrive,” Cochran said.

In order to ease the stress of moving in, FSU offers the services of a Movin’ Crew. The Movin’ Crew is made up of volunteer students who carry new student’s items into their dorm rooms.

After students are moved in, they still have access to support systems. Each floor in the residence halls has resident assistants who conduct outreach initiatives.

“These initiatives make sure that no student gets left behind. We ask them how they are doing and if they need help with anything. We just want them to know we are always there for them,” said Cochran.

Huddleston said, “If you are in an environment that you feel welcomed and connected, not only will you tend to do better, but you will tend to want to participate.”

In February 2016, according to the Framingham State news and events page, FSU was selected to “participate in the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ (AASCU) three-year RFY project, a major initiative with the unique mission of broadly transforming the first year of college to increase student success and retention.”

President Javier F. Cevallos said, “We know dropout rates are the highest during the first year of college. We need to find new approaches to support these students through this critical period in order to set them on a path toward graduation.”

The project targets four main areas to improve the freshman experience. According to the RFY website, these areas include “institutional intentionality, curriculum redesign, changes in faculty and staff roles and changes in student roles.”

Ben Trapanick, director of first-year programs, said, “It’s really important that we make students feel like they belong. The RFY project is just one of the many ways we can help to achieve this goal.

“You came to Framingham State. You don’t want to be just a number. [At FSU] you can have a face-to-face a conversation with your faculty. That direct communication gives you access to a wealth of information and guidance if you choose to seek it out,” said Trapanick.

According to Trapanick, FSU offers several programs, including the Center for Inclusive Excellence and CASA, that provide student outreach and attempt to foster a sense of belonging and community.

Huddleston said students must learn to “self-advocate,” yet they must also be supported by the University. “It’s really a 50/50 commitment.

“We have an obligation to communicate with students and make sure they are aware of all the resources they have at their disposal,” Huddleston added.

In addition to the centers on campus, FSU offers several programs specifically aimed at aiding students. Among these programs are the freshman Foundations course, the Peer Mentor Program and the supplemental instruction (SI) program.

Foundations is a program which aims to assist first-years students in their college transition. The program offers classes of no more than 20 students and encourages them to participate in thought-provoking conversations. The class also hopes to build a connection between students, faculty and the peer mentor assisting the course.

According to the Framingham State website, peer mentors are students who help facilitate the Foundations course. These students have already taken the Foundations course and displayed both an ability and desire to help incoming students with their college transition.

Huddleston said the Foundations program offers students access to advice and guidance from a variety of perspectives. “I love the three-prong mentoring approach the Foundations class takes. First off, you have the Foundations facilitator, then the teacher of the content portion of the course and finally, the peer mentor.

Freshman Chris Mayor said, “Foundations was a big help, especially when it came to registering for classes.”

Sophomore Brianna Schneider said, “I enjoyed my Foundations class, the instructor. The peer mentor made it really engaging.”

Freshman Charlie Arenna said, “Foundations was helpful, but having an extra class each week was annoying at times.”

Holloway said, “The institution needs to get students past the stigma associated with asking for help. We believe the implementation of both the peer mentor system and the supplemental instruction program will help with that.”

The SI program focuses on aiding students in a class that is generally considered to be difficult. An SI is then selected to sit in on the course and is a student who has previously done well in the course and offers additional tutoring hours for students.

Freshman Brittany Rose said, “The SI sessions were actually really helpful. They really go the extra mile to make sure you know the material.”

Junior Dan Turksy said, “SI sessions are a nice alternative to solely relying on class notes or office hours.”

Sophomore Inessa Burnell said, “The SI sessions are great, especially in courses that cover a lot of information quickly.”

While Holloway hopes these programs will encourage students to stay, she believes as long as students are successful and happy, FSU has done its job.

She said, “We want students to be successful and we’d like them to stay here, but ultimately, we just want to see students graduate, get a job and live happy, successful lives.”

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